On our way to the fortress we passed the spot where Sootha had met her end, and observed a respectful silence before continuing on our way. It took us some time to reach the fortress itself, but there was no mistaking it when we did.
Originally it had been a roughly square-shaped construction, with a gate on the downhill side, armoury, kitchen, and stables inside that, and a hall and tower opposite the gate - that is to say, on the uphill side. During the mountain's eruption a flow of molten rock had hit the fortress and flowed over its back wall, to the roof of the keep, before coming to a halt; the fortress must have been exceptionally well built, because the hall and curtain walls still stood even though the back half was crusted with lava. I suppose the lava must have been moving very slowly by then, since it stopped before reaching the gate, but I still shudder to think how much weight there must have been against the back wall.
We walked in through the gate - whatever door there might have been had long since gone - and into the courtyard. The ground was treacherous, covered in small and large rocks, and Thunk and Osh both fell at one time or another, but suffered no worse than skinned knees.
There was little left of the kitchen and stables but a few old bones from horses that had not escaped; it looks as if falling rocks crushed the lighter structures. The armoury was likewise almost completely destroyed; we found some extremely rusted weapons, and a stairway down choked with many tons of rubble, but nothing of value. So we proceeded into the hall, casting wary glances at the ceiling; although it had held up under the weight for four centuries now, none of us wanted to be there when it finally gave way.
The hall showed signs of a rapid departure - tables and chairs had been tipped over, and the inhabitants had been in such a hurry that they had even left behind several silver plates and goblets. We collected these and began to investigate the rotted tapestries on the walls.
I had barely touched one with my stick when a swarm of centipedes came scuttling out, about a dozen each as big as my hand. I had the presence of mind to hide behind a table that was lying on its side; when they came crawling over it, I jumped up and kicked it over to crush them under the tabletop. About half of them were still on the other side of the table, but Norton fried them with a quick fire spell. We decided to leave the remaining tapestries, and headed into the next room.
This was the bottom floor of the tower we had seen from outside, evidently some sort of library; the shelves still held an assortment of books, some of them still in reasonable condition. But Thonk warned us of an evil presence upstairs, so rather than stop to investigate the library we prepared for trouble. Bimpnotten cast an enchantment that infused my fists with magical force, and after a little discussion Osh and I headed up the stairs.
Well, I don't mind telling you that I was a little bit scared. There was an eerie wailing noise from above - we had heard something like it on our way to the fortress before - and when we made it into the next room, which must once have been a bedroom, we were met by three horrifying spirits. They were female, but we could only tell that much by the clothes; their faces were rotted and hideous and they weren't in a mood to talk. They went for us; by Bahamut's grace and some panicked dodging about I managed to avoid them, but Osh made a bigger target and was gravely unsettled by their cold touch. We were shaken but determined to see them off, and attempted to give them what for - but when Osh chopped at one with his axe, the weapon went straight through it without harming it in the least. It must have taken a great deal of courage to fight on knowing he could not harm them, but he did; I struck one a solid blow, and with the aid of Bimp's spell I was able to disrupt the dreadful creature.
Then Bimp came up the stairs and called upon her own god, Boccob; the two remaining ghosts fled into one corner of the room, and I pursued them. Thonk had come up by now, and warned that there was more evil upstairs; while I wore down the two cornered ghosts with a series of blows (and had a nasty scare when I stood on the old bed and it collapsed under me, threatening to plunge me through the wooden floor) the others guarded the stairs. Osh took the lead upstairs, and with the ghosts destroyed the rest of us followed.
The upstairs room was an old prison, with a once-sturdy door and broken manacles against the wall. We were met by its former tenant, something like a rotted corpse with a dreadful stench; the smell almost made me retch, and I stumbled into the creature's claws and was paralysed. Without my friends I would surely have been torn apart, but they bore up against the stench and hacked it to pieces.
Within a little while I was able to move again, and we searched the tower. In a cabinet in the bedroom Ilde found some ladies' rings (as well as a good many pieces of clothing, all perished) and under the bed was a locked box. Downstairs, we examined the books and found an explanation for what we had seen: the last lord of the fortress ('Stronghelm') had gone mad and been imprisoned in the tower, attended by maids who were locked in with him in case he should escape his manacles. When the mountain erupted, the others must have fled without unlocking the door, and the maids had perished along with their lord, either from the heat (I hope) or slowly by starvation afterwards. Now we have slain the thing they were charged with tending, perhaps their spirits will be at peace.
We also discovered - and this can hardly be a coincidence - a third piece of the map I mentioned before, showing more locations around the side of the mountain (I do not like the sound of the 'tower of blood') and another locked box, this one radiating magic. While exploring the room, Bimpnotten found a hidden staircase behind the fireplace, and we followed it down into a set of tunnels that ran beneath the fortress.
The first passage we investigated took us to a door that, from its location, probably would have opened on a basement underneath the kitchen. But there was a powerful smell of rot coming from that direction; we decided it would be neither healthy nor profitable (what could there be in the kitchen that would not have spoiled centuries ago?) so we left it alone and continued on.
Around two corners, we came to a solidly-built door. It was reinforced with metal, but the wood beneath it was in poor condition, and we managed to force it open with a crowbar. We found ourselves in the basement of the armoury, and to our delight, the same rockfall that blocked the stairs had sealed the basement from the elements. Here we found an assortment of good-quality weapons and armour, much of it magical, and my companions are much better-equipped for it as a result - I daresay we would have had far less trouble in the tower if we'd found this room first. At the back of the armoury behind bars were even more valuable goods: a helm and some finely-worked golden plates. After a long search we found a hidden catch in the wall that unlocked the door, and (with some trepidation) I picked up the plates. You will be glad to hear that your little sister was not blasted by some sort of trap.
The last of the underground areas we explored was a prison, with six cells, two oubliettes, and - I shudder to mention it - a torture chamber. In one of the oubliettes lay a skeleton with something glinting in its ribs (perhaps swallowed?) but Thonk warned us that there was something sinister about the skeleton, so rather than descending into the oubliette we simply watched as Norton used magic to pull the object up to us, sans skeleton. It turned out to be a ring of keys, two of which unlocked the chests we had acquired along the way. Inside one we found a collection of magic scrolls that may prove useful to us; in the other, a beautiful golden crown that must be worth a fortune.
We returned to town, and sold off some of our minor finds (the silverware, for instance). But we doubted anybody in Chompras would be able to offer a good price for the more valuable items - in particular the crown and the gold plates - so we have not mentioned them to anybody; we will probably make a trip to one of the bigger cities to sell those.
All the best, and keep in touch - your sister Imbezi.